The War on (Apathy won by) Drugs

Despite having been to hundreds of gigs in my lifetime, if you were to draw a graph, there could be seen a slow and steady decline in my gig attendance in the last 10 years.  Not such a surprise really when I’m slowly mining deeper into the seam of middle age.

Back in the day, all of my twenties were spent living in London, and while gigging regularly with my band The Violet Years I was also out and about watching bands all over the Big Smoke taking in venues such as The Kilburn National, The Astoria (Charing Cross Road), The Forum (aka Town & Country Club – Kentish Town), Hammersmith Odeon, The Venue (New Cross) and Brixton Academy.  All could be reached with a 4 zone travel card from whichever postcode of South London I was currently residing in.  Journey times were of no consequence and varied enormously with night buses and unlicensed taxi drivers sometimes featuring in the journey home.  Up for work the next morning, no bother* (*occasional exceptions aside).

Fast forward a decade or two where I’m well settled in Sheffield, bang in the centre of the country, with a thriving music scene and the northern music mecca of Manchester and the favoured stop off for bands visiting Yorkshire – Leeds, less than an hour away.  But nowadays it seems it takes more and more to raise my interest enough to warrant the effort of leaving my sofa to seek out the thrills of live musical performance and even more so to venture beyond Sheffield.  I imagine this partly comes from having heard so much music that it takes something quite special to really connect and encourage live exploration.

This eventually leads to a cold Sunday night in Nottingham…

It was only towards the end of last year that The War On Drugs started to appear on my musical radar with their LP ‘Lost in the Dream‘ –

The War On Drugs 'Lost In The Dream' 2014

The War On Drugs ‘Lost In The Dream’ 2014

a wonderful mix conjuring Dylan and Springsteen via a kaleidoscope of instrumental segues.  I found this combination fascinating.  When I read a little more about them I discovered the band was based in Philadelphia and built around singer, main songwriter and guitarist Adam Granduciel.  The latest LP was their third so if I actually made the effort to go and see them they would have quite a selection of material to draw from in a live setting.  The band’s UK tour was selling out as it went, but I noticed that their Nottingham date had been moved from a Wednesday to the Sunday of the same week so they could attend the Brit Awards – they’d been nominated for a gong for ‘Best International Group’.  They eventually lost out to the nicest man in rock and roll, Dave Grohl & his Foo Fighters.  By the way, Mr Grohl’s recent series ‘Sonic Highways’ is a fascinating look into the workings of bands, producers and studios alongside a musical history of eight American cities… but I digress.  The War On Drugs‘ loss at the Brits was a gain for myself and my good pals F and PB, as we were able to swoop in and purloin three returned tickets from unfortunate folk who either could not make the rescheduled date or could not face the thought of heading out on a Sunday night before a week’s nose to the grind.  Must admit I had to fight that feeling too.

Going out on a cold Sunday night... What was I thinking?

Going out on a cold Sunday night… What was I thinking?

F and PB who would help lift me from my Sunday sofa position.  It was actually their fault that I had a rather enjoyable time at the Green Man Festival a couple of years ago… {Green Man 2013 Diary & Review}… If you’re interested.

Anyway, it was arranged that I would meet PB in Sheffield at the rather wonderful Red Deer Pub to enjoy a swift pint while F would sit at home watching his beloved Spurs lose to current UKIP favourites, Chelsea, in The [insert company name here] Cup final.  F would then pick us up and drive us to Nottingham, Rock City… I mean Nottingham’s ‘Rock City’.

As PB and I enjoyed our pint we were accosted by a chap who started talking all things football but mainly about the travelling hooligans or ‘Firms’ as they are known in footie parlance.  We did our best to pretend we knew about the beautiful game, failing miserably – the conversation in the snug around the corner about being murdered in Tenerife, or dying in a plane crash on your way over to Tenerife, somehow seemed more appealing.

As arranged F picked us up from the pub and an hour later we were off the M1 and snaking towards Nottingham on the A610.  Compared to arriving in Leeds or Manchester this approach could almost be done blindfolded.  Ok, it does help that the venue is on the right side of town.

Rock City is a great all standing venue – a wide room rather than a long one with a good raised area all the around the edge of the room and a balcony too.  Really good sight lines from every angle.  Even with a sold out crowd it felt quite easy when moving around the space unlike in some venues where it really is ‘sardines’.  We were able to get centrally positioned, halfway between the mixing desk and stage – a perfect position for sound and to see the whites of Mr Granduciel’s eyes (if only he wasn’t back lit for most of the gig, which he would be, tsk!).

The War On Drugs Nottingham Rock City Sunday 1st March 2015

The War On Drugs Nottingham Rock City Sunday 1st March 2015

Live, The War On Drugs are a six piece band – they took to the stage with no fuss and just got on with creating wonderful music.  Many of the songs emerged from Adam Granduciel’s weaving layered guitar intros, with him hunched over the guitar, stamping on different effects pedals carefully placed around his territorial Persian rug*

warondrugsrugnpedals

warondrugsrugnpedals

(*I’ve seen such ruggage under Tom Petty and each of Crosby, Stills & Nash – I’d imagine The Grateful Dead and Robert Plant have partaken too.  It could be said evidence of such rug behaviour exists at the homely studio of The Janskys, the band I’m in now, but on closer inspection disparate off cuts of carpet take the place of luxuriantly exotic woven panels).

Back at the gig the sound is spot on and there is no rock pretension just sonic craftsmanship.  At times it felt like watching Bob Dylan in full flight fronting the E Street Band featuring John Squires, Neil Young, J Mascis, and Kevin Shields taking turns on the six string.  Classic rock songwriting melding with the motorik 4/4 beat of Neu! and careering into the epic wash of Mike Scott’s early Waterboys.  In quieter moments mellow Byrdsian psychedelia could be heard before layers of crisp glacial keyboards would drive a tune towards a layered climax with bowel shaking baritone sax drones underpinning proceedings.  Later, the essence of Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine would give way to Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois noodling quietly in the corner.  The War On Drugs’ occasional dips towards AOR and eighties mainstream were forgiven easily and actually worked if I’m honest – not a guilty pleasure, just pleasure.

The War On Drugs 'Slave Ambient' 2011

The War On Drugs ‘Slave Ambient’ 2011

It was a recipe that on paper shouldn’t work but in reality tasted delicious.  A whole section of my favourite kinds of music had been thrown into a mixing pot, distilled and served up – the results leaving me with a broad grin of satisfaction.  With the band’s previous LP ‘Slave Ambient‘ purchased from the merchandise stall, I am looking forward to devouring more of their fare.

All that was left was the journey home to Sheffield, no teleportation tonight (RIP Mr Nimoy #LLAP) just F’s reliable Mazda.  It was at this point I confessed to both him and PB that I’d booked Monday morning off work… Rock and Roll.

DS, March 2015

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